Carbon Upsets

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I have been a skeptic of ‘carbon offsetting’ since I first heard about it last year. For some reason, it just never made sense to me – how can you purchase away your impact on the environment? It’s reminiscent of days when the fearfully-faithful would purchase their sins (indulgences) away and get a ticket to heaven simply by giving money to the church. In both cases, someone is getting rich off of guilt-ridden businesses and individuals, who rather than changing their ‘sinful’ destructive ways, can simply pay for salvation.

//www.windows.ucar.edu/earth/climate/images/windfarm_sm.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Let’s say I want to keep driving my car, and get one of those nifty “this vehicle is carbon neutral” bumper stickers by investing in a few trees being planted and a wind farm that’s already been built. Problem is, this doesn’t erase the impact of my car and the wind farm is already producing energy without my money. Trees should be planted regardless, and not as an offset to continue business as usual. Solar//www.ikea.com/ms/en_US/img/about_ikea/tree250x250.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. parks should be made regardless. Wind farms should be made regardless. The point is, the playing field was not even at the conception of carbon neutrality. There was already an ecological and climate crisis underway.

Can individuals and companies truly offset their emissions by paying for trees to be planted (the main method of offsetting)? These trees supposedly soak up any emissions created, allowing people and corporations to continue polluting with clear consciences. One thing a pursuit of carbon-credit-rendered neutrality doesn’t do is discourage fossil fuel use, or any other environmental issue for that matter; biodiversity loss, overpopulation, pollution, overconsumption, etc..

A Norwegian Arctic measuring station in April reported that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere had reached a new peak, at 394 parts per million! Is something not making sense here? What about this whole Greenwashed Revolution? I thought compact florescent lights, canvas bags, and organic bananas were going to save our civilization from chewing up all the resources and spitting out nothing but pollution and waste at exponentially increasing rates… Are you saying we actually have to change our economic model? Gasp!

Just this week, the Financial Times argued that Carbon Trading could easily become the wold’s leading derivatives product. Just a few days prior, a Financial Times investigation uncovered widespread failings in the new markets for greenhouse gases, suggesting some organizations are paying for emissions reductions that do not actually take place. Can you imagine? Someone is getting rich by co-opting a social and political movement! I mean, it’s not like Diesel Jeans has capitalized on Global Warming. Oh.. wait…

One major problem with the concept of Carbon Neutrality is the failure to discourage ecologically destructive practices. Instead, the option to invest in other companies’ energy efficiency and sustainability initiatives – which, according to the FT investigation, often go unfulfilled – is a dangerous game of guess-work and promises. Remember, this is the same attempt-at-a-movement in which we’ve seen corn grown on slash & burned Rain Forest land to make ethanol (If this isn’t backwards, I don’t know what is).

The growing political salience of environmental politics has sparked a “green gold rush”, which has seen a dramatic expansion in the number of businesses offering both companies and individuals the chance to go “carbon neutral”, offsetting their own energy use by buying carbon credits that cancel out their contribution to global warming. – Industry caught in carbon ‘smokescreen’ By Fiona Harvey and Stephen Fidler, Published: Apr 25, 2007

The April 14th issue of Newsweek asks “Who’s The Greenest of Them All? ” about our Presidential candidates. Can the candidates see through the greenwashing and pursue a true environmental ideal – or will we be seeing more scams like carbon offsetting? The issue finds out where the presidential candidates stand on the environment and what’s keeping environmental groups from endorsing one of them. The cover package also includes the top 10 fixes for the planet, none of which I’m SURE is going veg – even though being vegan, according to the UN Report, should be numero uno on every greenie’s list.

As far as I’m concerned (am I’m just a blogger, so feel free to send hate mail) consumer-capitalism is simply not sustainable. At it’s very core is a desire for unbridled consumption and expansion which is just a fantasy given the limits of a finite planet with finite resources. A child can grasp that concept, yet our most celebrated economists choose to continue living in la la land.

One of my major concerns with having such an intensive focus on Global Warming is the loss of emphasis on other ecological and environmental crises – we are currently experiencing an extinction event, yet that rarely makes news.

To find out what you can do, visit Carbon Trade Watch. According to their report:

This report argues that offsets place disproportionate emphasis on individual lifestyles and carbon footprints, distracting attention from the wider, systemic changes and collective political action that needs to be taken to tackle climate change. Promoting more effective and empowering approaches involves moving away from the marketing gimmicks, celebrity endorsements, technological quick fixes, and the North/South exploitation that the carbon offsets industry embodies.

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One Response to Carbon Upsets

  1. shanesbreakfastburrito says:

    one of our writers did a nifty little summary of various companies efforts to manage carbon offsets , and the challenges therein:
    http://pinkomag.com/2008/01/25/the-2008-carbon-calculator-round-up/

    that newsweek should be interesting, albeit frustrating.

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